Cut, Clarity, Counterterrorism
From Stones: The Secret Financial Network of Terror
Douglas Farah Broadway Books, 288 pages, $24.95
It’s hard to read Blood From Stones without encountering
one’s own prejudice. The connections Douglas Farah draws between
the diamond trade in “collapsed states” in West Africa and
the terrorist groups of the Middle East might make a reader
suspect every Arab organization no matter how benign. That’s
not Farah’s fault. All he does is make the links, leaving
us to our own conclusions and to figuring out how to combat
the paranoid pall of the Sept. 11 attacks.
West Africa’s diamonds make up less than 10 percent of the
world’s $7 billion diamond trade,” he writes. “Most of these
are ‘blood diamonds,’ or stones mined and sold by warring
factions in Africa, from Sierra Leone to the Congo to Angola.
. . . In exchange for diamonds, the terrorists paid cash to
some of the most brutal killers in Africa. Some of the same
weapons merchants who armed the Taliban and al Quaeda delivered
guns and ammunition to Charles Taylor in Liberia and other
international criminals who have perpetrated massive crimes
Farah fortifies his taut, scary book with reporting for the
Washington Post and testimony before Congressional
committees, revealing information intelligence agencies should—and
might—already know; it’s striking how many contemporary books,
like this one and Richard Clarke’s Against All Enemies,
anticipate and create headlines these days.
Farah begins by describing the diamond trade in Liberia and
Quaeda’s foray into the diamond fields of West Africa was
not the first by a terrorist group,” he writes. “For years,
Lebanon’s Hezbollah, or Army of God, and other Middle Eastern
groups used diamond riches to finance their causes. Russian
arms dealers, British and South African mercenaries, retired
Israeli military officers and American and European merchants
of greed found their way to the diamond fields.”
He tracks how the trade snakes through Africa, the United
Arab Emirates, Belgium and the United States, burrowing into
organizations like the Muslim Brotherhood, the Benevolence
International Foundation and the Safa Group.
He then alternates accounts of intelligence failures with
probes of the shadowy networks that buttress terror. He also
explores hawala, an informal, favor-based financial
system that bypasses banks and documentation, permeating the
Middle East even as it remains impermeable to Western scrutiny.
Farah’s reportage suggests that the Patriot Act, a cornerstone
of the Bush administration’s anti-terrorism efforts, is double-edged.
While it may erode civil liberties, Farah indicates it also
can be an effective prosecutorial tool. At least, he suggests,
it clouds the picture of an administration that seems ambivalent
about Saudi Arabia, relying on it for oil and access despite
evidence linking it to terrorist efforts. Key to that insight
was the discovery of the “golden chain,” a list of 20 “wealthy
Saudis who gave generously to al Quaeda,” in a March 2002
raid of Benevolence International Foundation offices in Sarajevo.
Despite such a discovery, political considerations seem to
blunt efforts to break the terrorist backbone; Muslims are
a voting bloc, after all. George W. Bush wooed Sami al Arian,
a Kuwaiti-Pakistani computer science professor at the University
of Florida—and a senior member of the “Palestinian Islamic
Jihad, a group that unleashes suicide bombers against Israelis.”
Al Arian also was linked to the Safa Group, a financial entity
with ties to terrorist efforts:
the al Arian and Safa Group investigations [by the FBI] languished.
In the 2000 elections al Arian supported George W. Bush, urging
Muslims to vote Republican as the best hope of ending discrimination
against Arab-Americans. Al Arian and his family were photographed
with a beaming Bush and his wife, Laura, during a Florida
campaign stop. Al Arian liked to boast that he had delivered
‘considerably more’ than the 537 votes that gave Bush his
victory in Florida and allowed him to capture the White House.”
Nevertheless, al Arian lost his university job and in March
2003 was arrested and charged with conspiracy to commit murder
and with secretly leading the PIJ for many years.
Political considerations also might explain why the CIA and
FBI don’t share information and why the Department of Homeland
Security killed Operation Green Quest, a highly focused intelligence
division of the former Customs Service, Farah suggests. Such
maneuvers mask a deeper problem, however.
war on Iraq siphoned resources and manpower from the overall
counterterrorism strategy while also badly fracturing the
international coalition vital to taking on the terrorists.
. . . Hundreds of radical Islamic fighters, some of them affiliated
with al Quaeda, poured into Iraq after the U.S. occupation
to fight the American forces. Where once the ties between
Iraq and al Quaeda were tenuous at best, Islamic terrorists
are now being welcomed with open arms.”
Read this and you’ll admire Farah’s doggedness. You’ll weep,